The Randolph Caldecott Medal, named after the 19th century illustrator, is given out each year to the best American picture book (which is interesting in and of itself since Caldecott was British). The award is selected by the American Library Association, and it is given to the book’s illustrator. The Caldecott committee also selects Honor books—the silver medalists—and the number selected varies from year to year. This year was the 75th anniversary of the Caldecott, which was announced in January at the Youth Media Awards.
I’m a children’s librarian, and the ALA Youth Media Awards are my Super Bowl. Held every year at ALA’s Midwinter Conference, the event brings authors, illustrators, and librarians together to announce all of the literary awards for children and teens. Months of speculation on kid lit blogs lead up to those moments. It’s streamed live. Twitter explodes with book love. It. Is. Awesome. And so were all of this year’s Caldecott books. It’s one of the best crops of Caldecotts we’ve had in recent years.
The Caldecott Medal winner for 2013 was This Is Not My Hat, written and illustrated by Jon Klassen. It’s a follow-up to his minimalist and wildly successful I Want My Hat Back. Our protagonist is a tiny fish who steals a hat from a big fish. He knows it’s wrong, but he wants it. And he thinks he is totally getting away with it. But Big Fish has other ideas, and Tiny Fish learns the hard way that you should never leave witnesses.
Twisted humor, opposing narratives, and very subtle changes in the illustrations pack a storytelling punch here. The subdued color scheme is offset by the black background, which adds to the surprisingly sinister feeling this book has at times. This is not Finding Nemo‘s big blue ocean. There is a definite moral to the story, and Klassen can convey so much with a sideways glance. This is a great book.
Creepy Carrots, written by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Peter Brown. Peter Brown is, hands down, one of my favorite children’s book writers and illustrators working right now (check out his awesome response to the Caldecott Honor news). And this pairing with Aaron Reynolds is kind of genius.
Jasper Rabbit loves carrots. Crackenhopper Field has the best wild carrots around…until the day they start following Jasper home. He sees carrots creeping around every corner, he hears carroty breathing at night, and no one will believe him. Finally Jasper decides to take matters into his own hands in this Twilight Zone-inspired story. And the carrots have a plan, too. This is my personal favorite of the 2013 Caldecott books for just being so positively weird, retro, and hilarious.
Extra Yarn, written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen. Yes, Jon Klassen won the Medal and an Honor this year. This is only the second time in history that has happened; the first time was 1947. I have to confess a personal preference for this story over his big win. It is just warm, geeky perfection. Annabelle is a plucky little girl in a drab winter town, and one day she finds a box full of yarn. So she knits herself a sweater. And then she makes a sweater for her dog with the extra yarn. And then she makes sweaters for everyone else in town, and the buildings, and the trees. The yarn never runs out, and soon she has transformed her grim town into a colorful wonderland. This attracts the attention of a fashionable and shady archduke from a faraway land, who ends up stealing the box. But, there is a happy ending here.
This is another one of my favorites. Jon Klassen’s style is very distinctive, and Mac Barnett is an incredibly funny writer. His other books are worth a look if you like offbeat children’s humor. I mean, this is essentially a picture book about yarn bombing. It’s a great story, and my first grade students loved making their own yarn pictures after we read this during our Caldecott unit this year.
Green, written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger. This gorgeous book is the second Caldecott Honor for Vaccaro Seeger (First the Egg was the first), whose lush paintings and clever cutouts make for some great interactive picture books. This book is about exactly what the title suggests. It’s a year-round celebration of all things green in the world around us. The colors just draw you in and make this a book to look at over and over again.
This has been a huge hit in my library, I have not been able to keep it on the shelves since I bought it.
One Cool Friend, written by Tony Buzzeo and illustrated by David Small. Young Elliot is a bit of a dandy with a distracted academic for a father. They take a trip to the zoo, and Elliot leaves with a fellow tuxedo connoisseur—a real, live penguin. While he hilariously struggles to make his new pet feel at home, his father remains oblivious to his son’s new roommate. Or does he?
The ink and watercolor illustrations here are lively and fun, but my younger students didn’t really get this book. Buzzeo’s writing is quick and witty, and I think slightly older kids (or very precocious little ones) would love it. I think it’s a charmer.
Sleep Like a Tiger, written by Mary Logue and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski. This is a beautiful lullaby of a book. A little girl insists she is not tired at bedtime, so she asks her parents, “Does everything in the world go to sleep?” Her parents have some seasoned tactics for getting her into bed while explaining how different animals get ready for sleep.
I’m a big fan of Zagarenski’s illustrations; she also previously won a Caldecott Honor, for Joyce Sidman’s Red Sings from Treetops. Every time I read this aloud kids are hypnotized by it. Even my 14-month-old daughter, who normally just tries to destroy non-board books, stared quietly at the pictures. It’s become a bedtime regular.
Last year was a great year for picture books, and hopefully this year will be even better. I’ve started a collection of the Caldecott books for each year of my daughter’s life, so she’ll have them all to appreciate when she’s old enough. Right now they are really beautiful objects to wave around and crawl over, though.
What are your favorites from this year’s list?
Jackie Reeve is an Amazon Affiliate.